Strings for Folk-rockers? Don't be shy :)

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Mike Liston, Mar 6, 2004.

  1. Hi folks, first-time poster here. I have just spent some very worthwhile time perusing prior threads on "string theory", lots of good stuff I had not heard before.

    I hope that I'm not rehashing the venerable legend of the quest for a dual-purpose string here, but here's my current deal:

    a) although I do a reasonable amount of jazz/improv work, and the occasional classical repetoire gig, most of my gigs are I what you might call "folk" or "folk-rock", that is to say, eclectic music, I guess. Melting-pot type stuff.

    I could try and list the qualities I seek in a string, but as time has shown, such descriptions don't translate perfectly person-to-person/bass-to-bass! Since most online discussions refer to "jazz" or "classical" as the preferred terms of reference, is there anyone out there working a lot in "folk"-influenced genres who can chip in their two-cents on string choices?

    I know "folk" is far from a precise term either, but hopefully people who are doing these kinds of gigs can relate somewhat to my frame of reference!!!

    For what it's worth:
    I am probably 70% pizzin' and 30% bowing. I need something that has plenty of character, to complement and fill-out what are often smaller (duo-quartet) acoustic instrument-heavy ensembles.

    I have Helicore Hybrid Mediums on right now, and am not really happy with the warmth or personality of the tone. Bow response is OK.

    Hope this is topical, and thanks in advance for any advice!
  2. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    I'm thinking of Pirastro Obligatos and Kolstein Varicors.
    The former has a synthetic core, but doesn't last very long (seems one year max is the general consensus), but may sound nasal on your bass. Depends on may factors.
    The latter is all steel, lasts much longer and is more stable, and has a strong full tone with character.
    Other people may suggest other choices!
  3. Mike;

    I have an Engelhardt EM1 and I use Obligatos. They bow well, sound good and have a nice projection. At about 10 months of play, the Low E is sounding a bit thuddy, but I have taken these strings off and reinstalled them several times, which is reportedly not good for them.

    Hope this helps

  4. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I play a great deal of pizz, but not jazz. I also play BG, folk, traditional and even some adapted pop stuff.

    Obligatos came to mind to me as well. I tried them on my Shen hybrid and the pizz sound is excellent. I was not happy with the bowed sound of them, but my bass is new and still pretty stiff. If your bass is naturally bright sounding anyway, I am not sure you will be happy with the arco tone of Obligatos.

    I like a really deep, rich arco sound and have switched to Flexocors. I did give up something on my pizz tone though. I think it is fine for BG and folk though, as it has a sort of thuddy, quick decay that works for me.

    I have just about decided that having two basses is the way to go. Although I don't think my wife shares the sentiment.
  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Folk covers a wide range. But when you say folk ROCK I say...if you're all set for jazz you're all set for folk rock. The big name guys you hear on folk-rock recordings are mostly jazzers....Danny Thomspon who's THE guy in the UK for folk rock, Bill Lee (Spike's dad) and Richard Davis who played on a lot of folk rock dates in NYC in the 1960s, Dave Holland with Bonnie Raitt and John Hartford...

    For more traditional folk, gut strings may be called for, especially if there is slapping involved (bluegrass, for example). Even then you'll find many folk players with steel strings and lower action. Plus gut strings bow like crap.
  6. Thanks for the tips so far guys... this site is really happening :)

    I don't know anyone locally using Obligatos, which is strange, given their obvious popularity amongst users on this forum. The reviews they get make me want to try them, but my bass is a relatively stiff, brightish instrument, and the last thing I am looking for is "nasal" tone with the bow.

    Any comments on Flexocors vs. Kolstein Varicors?
  7. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    Flexocors are available in two kinds:
    (regular)Flexocors, or so-called Flexocor '92s
    Original Flexocor (the Flexocor string that was sold before 1992, when they changed the formula)

    The Flexocor '92s D&G are quite dark and thumpy, stiffer and less lively than their Original Flexocor counterpart.
    The Flexocor '92s E&A are clearer, thinner sounding and more lively than their Original Flexocor counterpart, which are thick, very dark and boomy.

    The Varicors are more similar to the Original Flexocors, but they speak more clearly.

  8. bdengler


    Jan 23, 2000
    New Albany, Ohio
    Sorry for this stupid question, but, could you give me some examples of what you'd call "folk rock"? Are there any recording artists that would fall into that category? As to strings, I concur that Obligatos are a great hybrid string. They have good sustain for pizz and are good arco strings.You need a little more bow speed to get them to speak. You may also wish to consider Pirastro Permanents. They have a clear, focused tone for arco, and they are a surprisingly reasonable pizz string with some sustain. The Permanent speak easy with a bow. Helicore Orchestra mediums are probably the "happy medium" if you depend more on arco than pizz. The Corelli Tungsten 370-TX's are a popular hybrid string for both arco and pizz. The criticism I hear of the Corelli's is that they don't last long. However, the Corelli's are very light in gauge, easy on the hands and speak easily with a bow.
  9. Hardly a stupid question... I used "folk"-rock as kind of a catch-all term, but could have been more precise anyhow! Here are some of the more prominent such influences on both myself as well as many of the people I regularly work with, and I doubt any of them would object too strenuously to saying their music has touches of something "folky":

    Ani DiFranco, Zubot and Dawson, Rufus Wainwright [and his dad :)], Ben Folds Five, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Hank Williams, Ben Harper, The Brothers Creegan, Barenaked Ladies, Ron Sexsmith, the Rheostatics, the Flecktones, Veda Hille, Sarah Harmer, Kim Barlow, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, Bob Dylan

    'course I dig all kinds of stuff, but that would be pretty representative of a lot of the gigs I'm doing right now.

    p.s. it strikes me that a lot of those names are Canadians. Maybe that would be a more precise term -> "Canuck-rock"?
  10. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    For everyone on that list except Hank Williams I would use a typical low action steel string jazz setup.

    For Hank, guts a mile off the fingerboard.
  11. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Agreed. I played in a "folk rock" band, and just used Spiracore weichs on my old King. (And an SM-58.)
  12. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Weichs, I think. You can do a lot of pop crossover kind of stuff on them, moreso than some of the other strings, IMHO.

    P.S..."shy?" in TB DB forum? you gotta be kidding :D
  13. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    Sorry for the late response, I've been away from the forum for a while...

    I play a variety of folk-ish stuff, from old-time mountain folk to old country to more contemporary folk. I've settled on Superflexibles. They've got the tension to help my bass speak a little bit better, as well as letting me have lower action for my smaller hands. While they have good sustain, they are darker than Spiros and bow better than Weichs and much better than Spiro Mediums.
  14. Hi Jim,
    thanks to you and everyone else for the posts. Definitely got me thinking about more than just Helicores which is what everyone I know seems to play.

    Your cross-referencing of the Thomastik brand is helpfull; curious if you have tried Obligatos or Varicors, since these have also been reccomended?

    p.s. anyone in Canada who wants to hear the final result of my string-agonizing, I will be doing a bit of cross-country touring this summer, and would be happy to have feedback! :)
  15. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    I have not tried either Obligatos or Varicores, but you will certainly find plenty of commentary on Obligatos in this forum with a wide range of opinions. The only other strings I have tried have been Corelli 370TX. I did not like the lower tension, although the sound was fine and they spoke well with the bow for a bright string. My bass really needs a higher-tension string, and I find that I have to work harder with lower-tension strings such as the Corellis or the Weichs. The Superflexibles fall between the Weichs and Mediums in terms of tension. If I didn't bow some, I would use Spiro Mediums without hesitation.